The hottest trend in college football of the 2000s is the no-huddle, up-tempo offense.  First popping up on the West Coast and Midwest, Gus Malzahn's success at Auburn (as offensive coordinator and then head coach) has helped spread the hurry-up game to the SEC in recent years.  Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Missouri are three schools whose play has quickened.  Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and Butch Jones at Tennessee would also like to reach a speedy pace when possible.

The thinking, of course, is that a no-huddle, up-tempo offense is a great equalizer for teams with lesser talent and a great advantage for teams with uber-talent.  The faster a team plays, the more a defense is on its heels.  The more quickly a defense wears down, allowing an offense to run it ragged.  Literally.

But as the hurry-up has become somewhat of the norm, questions have also been asked about such a system's impact on its own defense.  (We'll not even tackle the safety debate.)  The faster an offensive unit is on and off the field, the less time its defensive counterpart has to rest.  The more plays an offense runs, more than likely, the more plays a defense will have to defend.

Most believe the positives effects on offense outweigh negative effects on defense.  But do they?

We've gone back over the past two seasons to see what -- if any -- correlation exists between snaps run per game and points scored and allowed per game.  First, we broke down each SEC squad's average time of possession per game (in seconds).  Then we tallied each school's average number of plays run per game.  Using those numbers, we determined the just how fast all 14 SEC schools played in 2013 and 2012 (average seconds between snaps).

Finally, we took that average-seconds-between-plays number and compared it to the average points per game and the average points per game allowed for all 14 schools in both 2013 and 2012.  We'll look at the offensive results first.

 

2013 Offensive Comparison

School Avg. Seconds/Play Avg. Points/Game (SEC Rank)
Texas A&M 21.87 44.2 (1)
Ole Miss 22.78 30.0 (9)
Missouri 24.17 39.1 (3)
Georgia 24.25 36.7 (4)
Auburn 25.17 39.5 (2)
Tennessee 25.80 23.8 (11)
Kentucky 26.04 20.5 (13)
Miss. State 27.14 27.7 (10)
S. Carolina 27.14 34.1 (7)
LSU 27.56 35.8 (6)
Vanderbilt 28.08 30.1 (8)
Arkansas 28.29 20.7 (12)
Alabama 30.22 38.2 (4)
Florida 30.70 18.8 (14)

 

As you can see, four of the top five schools in point production also ranked among the top five in offensive tempo.  After those five, however, up-tempo speed doesn't seem to be a great prediction of scoring prowess.  Now let's look at 2012.

 

2012 Offensive Comparison

School Avg. Seconds/Play Avg. Points/Game (SEC Rank)
Texas A&M 21.43 44.5 (1)
Tennessee 21.83 36.2 (4)
Ole Miss 22.75 31.5 (5)
Kentucky 23.51 17.9 (14)
Arkansas 24.03 23.5 (12)
Missouri 24.83 25.8 (11)
Georgia 25.56 37.8 (3)
Vanderbilt 26.93 30.0 (7)
LSU 27.00 29.8 (8)
S. Carolina 27.12 31.5 (5)
Miss. State 27.60 29.5 (9)
Alabama 30.19 38.7 (2)
Florida 30.60 26.5 (10)
Auburn 30.68 18.7 (13)

 

Obviously, there seemed to be even less connection between tempo and scoring in 2012.  Only three of the SEC's highest-scoring offenses ranked among the league's top six offenses in terms of speed.  Three of the top five highest-scoring teams ranked in the bottom seven of the conference in the seconds-per-play category.

But what of the SEC's defenses?  First, we looked at 2013.

 

2013 Defensive Comparison

School Avg. Seconds/Play Avg. Points/Game Allowed (SEC Rank)
Texas A&M 21.87 32.2 (14)
Ole Miss 22.78 23.7 (7)
Missouri 24.17 23.1 (6)
Georgia 24.25 29.0 (10)
Auburn 25.17 24.7 (9)
Tennessee 25.80 29.0 (10)
Kentucky 26.04 31.2 (13)
Miss. State 27.14 23.0 (5)
S. Carolina 27.14 20.3 (2)
LSU 27.56 22.0 (4)
Vanderbilt 28.08 24.6 (8)
Arkansas 28.29 30.8 (12)
Alabama 30.22 13.9 (1)
Florida 30.70 21.1 (3)

 

Interesting.  Not one of the five fastest offenses ranked among the league's top seven in terms of points-per-game-allowed.  On the flip side, five of the SEC's most stingy defenses also happened to be paired with offenses that used more time in between snaps.  But will that hold true for 2012 as well?

 

2012 Defensive Comparison

Schools Avg. Seconds/Play Avg. Points/Game Allowed (SEC Rank)
Texas A&M 21.43 21.8 (7)
Tennessee 21.83 35.7 (14)
Ole Miss 22.75 27.6 (9)
Kentucky 23.51 31.0 (13)
Arkansas 24.03 30.4 (12)
Missouri 24.83 28.4 (11)
Georgia 25.56 19.6 (6)
Vanderbilt 26.93 18.7 (5)
LSU 27.00 17.5 (3)
S. Carolina 27.12 18.2 (4)
Miss. State 27.60 23.3 (8)
Alabama 30.19 10.9 (1)
Florida 30.60 14.5 (2)
Auburn 30.68 28.3 (10)

 

Clearly, the two numbers had an even closer relationship in 2012.  The six worst defenses in the SEC all ranked seventh or lower in terms of seconds-between-snaps.  Meanwhile, seven of the eight slowest offenses were paired with defenses ranking eighth or better.  

To be fair, this is obviously a simplified comparison.  Many factors determine whether a team puts points on the board or keeps its opponent from doing likewise.  A no-huddle, up-tempo scheme is just one of those factors.

But these numbers do suggest that playing a fast-pace style of offense actually has more negative impact on a team's defense than it has a positive effect on a team's offense.  

Many believe hurry-up offenses are the wave of the future.  We believe -- and we've written it before -- that it's a gimmick style.  There's nothing wrong with that, mind you.  The wishbone offense was basically a gimmick that took over football for a couple of decades only to peter out and become a staple of the service academies.  We suspect the no-huddle, up-tempo craze will continue to expand over the next few years.  But eventually coaches will realize that that style of play can hurt their defenses as much as it helps their offenses.  Or moreso.

If an Oregon or an Auburn or another speed-ball team can win a national title, the style will remain popular longer.  For now, however, it's defense that still wins championships (as Auburn's giveaway of an 18-point lead proved in last year's BCS title game) and the no-huddle, up-tempo style isn't great for defense.

Give it 10 or 15 years and "the offense of tomorrow" will become a thing of the past.